Equipotentiality

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= the basic principle behind the emergence of peer to peer social dynamics


Contents

Definition and commentary

Michel Bauwens: in my interpretation, peer production processes are characterized by the adoption of equipotentiality as an organizing principle. This means that everyone can potentially cooperate in a project, that no authority can pre-judge the ability to cooperate, but that the quality of cooperation is then judged by the community of peers, i.e. through Communal Validation. In equipotential projects, participants self-select themselves to the module to which they feel able to contribute. A related term, used by Jimmy Wales of the Wikipedia project, is Anti-Credentialism, which refers to the fact that no credentials are asked beforehand, unlike the process of Peer Review.


Why Equipotential Self-selection works

Charles Leadbeater, in We Think summarizes the explanation of Yochai Benkler:

"Benkler’s explanation for how open source communities coordinate themselves runs something like this. The raw material of these collaborations is creative talent. But creative talent is highly variable. People are good at different things and in different ways. It is very difficult to tell from the outside, for example by time and motions studies, who is the more effective creative worker. It is very difficult to write detailed job descriptions and contracts for creativity, specifying what new ideas need to be created when. Creativity cannot be delivered just-in-time. Open source communities resolve the difficulties of assessing creativity and quality by decentralising decision making down to individuals and small groups. They decide what to work on, depending on what needs to be done and what their skills are. There is little sense in working on a project that is already well staffed and where your contribution will add very little. It is very difficult to pull the wool over the eyes of your peers: they will soon spot if the contributions that you make do not really come up to scratch. That allows people to work on just their bit of the puzzle. Good central design rules allow the whole thing to add together. Work in open source communities gets done when creative people self-distribute themselves to different tasks, they submit their work to open peer review to maintain quality and the product has a modular design so that individual contributions can be clicked together easily.:" (http://wethink.wikia.com/wiki/Chapter_8_part_3)


Some equipotential practices

Projects also differ in whom they consider members, and the degree of membership within a given project can vary as well. Apart from officially assigned functions, such as being a member of the coreteam or a maintainer, writing access to Source Code Management Systems (SCM) is a distinguishing feature, as it allows contributors to work autonomously. Projects handle the granting of such rights very differently. Debian demands the successful completion of a series of tests to prove technical ability but also to show adherence to the Debian Social Contract — a kind of constitutional charter of the project which has a lot to say about freedom of software. Only when these tests have been passed satisfactorily — which can take a month or more than a year — is one assigned the official status of a Debian Developer. This form of admission — which is bordering on a formal initiation process — seems to be rather unique... It is widely assumed that the allocation and distribution of positions is based on reputation. Such reputation, though, is not only acquired meritocratically by writing good code; the idea of elders (where the project founder is assigned in some fashion the role of leader) is also quite important. The organisational structures of FLOSS projects are not designed at the drawing board; they are the result of happenstance, conventions ("that’s what is done in FLOSS projects"), and negotiation. " (http://www.firstmonday.org/issues/issue9_11/lehmann/index.html )

Citations

Jorge Ferrer

The quote by Jorge Ferrer is a good illustration of the underlying value behind equipotentiality.

"equals in the sense of their being both superior and inferior to themselves in varying skills and areas of endeavor (intellectually, emotionally, artistically, mechanically, interpersonally, and so forth), but with none of those skills being absolutely higher or better than others. It is important to experience human equality from this perspective to avoid trivializing our encounter with others as being merely equal." (http://www.estel.es/EmbodiedParticipationInTheMystery,%201espace.doc)

The full quote:

“An integrative and embodied spirituality would effectively undermine the current model of human relations based on comparison, which easily leads to competition, rivalry, envy, jealousy, conflict, and hatred. When individuals develop in harmony with their most genuine vital potentials, human relationships characterized by mutual exchange and enrichment would naturally emerge because people would not need to project their own needs and lacks onto others. More specifically, the turning off of the comparing mind would dismantle the prevalent hierarchical mode of social interaction—paradoxically so extended in spiritual circles—in which people automatically look upon others as being either superior or inferior, as a whole or in some privileged respect. This model—which ultimately leads to inauthentic and unfulfilling relationships, not to mention hubris and spiritual narcissism—would naturally pave the way for an I-Thou mode of encounter in which people would experience others as equals in the sense of their being both superior and inferior to themselves in varying skills and areas of endeavor (intellectually, emotionally, artistically, mechanically, interpersonally, and so forth), but with none of those skills being absolutely higher or better than others. It is important to experience human equality from this perspective to avoid trivializing our encounter with others as being merely equal. It also would bring a renewed sense of significance and excitement to our interactions because we would be genuinely open to the fact that not only can everybody learn something important from us, but we can learn from them as well. In sum, an integral development of the person would lead to a “horizontalization of love." We would see others not as rivals or competitors but as unique embodiments of the Mystery, in both its immanent and transcendent dimension, who could offer us something that no one else could offer and to whom we could give something that no one else could give." (http://www.estel.es/EmbodiedParticipationInTheMystery,%201espace.doc)


Ikka Tuomi:

“this community–centric developmental model" in which "the novices could enter the community gradually, by first gaining access to the community, then internalizing its values and world–views, and eventually becoming full, competent members." Noting that "modern legal systems simply do not acknowledge the existence of such open, productive communities," Tuomi observes the liability protection is missing, which is something Microsoft has picked up on its in advertising campaign targeting the "true costs" of open source."

Source: Ilkka Tuomi, cited by John Willinsky at http://www.firstmonday.org/issues/issue10_8/willinsky//index.html#note51. Originally from: Ilkka Tuomi, 2005. "The future of open source: Trends and prospects," In: Marleen Wynants and Jan Cornelis (editors). How open is the future? Economic, social and cultural scenarios inspired by free and open source software. Brussels: Vrjie Universiteit Press, pp. 429–459.


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